Consciously choosing recovery and sobriety, and deciding to stay clean and sober and stick with it, is no simple task.
The secret of recovery–of overcoming addiction and alcoholism–is to make a consistent set of decisions to abstain from drugs and alcohol. We can dress this up in any number of ways. But the core of recovery must be abstinence, and that requires consistent decision-making.
The Power of Choice
Of course it all starts with a simple choice. The choice to quit drinking, the choice to not go out and scrounge up the money for another night of partying, the choice to give residential treatment another shot. The choice to give recovery another chance, even though you might hate AA meetings. Whatever. Of course it all starts with a choice.
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But many addicts and alcoholics have made similar choices, but never followed through with them. Or, they might have maintained a half-hearted sobriety for only a short time. Others have sworn off drugs and alcohol forever, only to be drinking and using within days or even hours of the statement. The question then becomes: when does choice become a new way of life? What level of conviction is needed to make lasting change in our lives?
It Takes a Million Little Choices
Each day of sobriety brings new opportunity. This is a double-edged sword, because the possibility of relapse is constantly lurking for those who are clean. We have to decide each and every day to abstain from chemicals. Anyone who is struggling to get their first 30 days clean can attest to this fact. And so we work 12 step programs and practice spiritual principles in order to deal with our life in the face of abstinence. But in the beginning, it is a struggle, because we can clearly see that it was not just a single decision that was needed in order to achieve sobriety, but a daily decision that we would have to face every day. Realizing this can be a bit discouraging, but we don’t have to get overwhelmed by this constant decision we are to be faced with.
When I first got clean and sober, I lived in long term treatment and managed to stick to sobriety, but I had constant thoughts of drugs and alcohol. I would wake up in the morning and my first though would be “How am I gonna get high today?” and then I would remember that I got clean and was now living in treatment. This was discouraging but I stuck with the program. Somewhere around 90 days clean I had a revelation one night while getting ready for bed: I had not thought about using drugs or alcohol all day long! Not once!
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This was the first part of my awakening, because it showed me what was possible. It was also proof enough for me that I could live my way into a healthy lifestyle. It was also proof that I could be reasonably happy and content without drugs and alcohol. When I first got sober, I did not believe either of these things were possible.
Consistent Choices will Lead to Habit
There are sayings out there about how long it takes for something to become a habit. Breaking free of addiction takes some effort, but consistency will pay off in the end. Simply by making consistent choices, addicts and alcoholics can build a new life in sobriety. Eventually, of course, the choice to avoid drugs and alcohol will become automatic, and it will take a major disruption or truly unusual circumstances for us to consider drinking or drugging again.
So we make a decision to quit drinking, and then we make a commitment to continually make this decision again every single day. Most people get confused here, because they believe that the strength of their initial commitment is what is truly important. They think that the strength of their initial decision must somehow carry them through a lifetime of sobriety.
This is not true. Deep down you know it’s not true, because you’ve made these promises before, and yet you went back on your word and found yourself slipping back to your old ways. The strength of your initial decision is irrelevant–it’s how well you follow through with things in the long run that really counts. So how can we follow through in the long run? How can we make the decision, every day, not to drink?
Reinforcing Our Choices – Practicing Spiritual Principles
The real key to a lifetime of sobriety is in the spiritual experience. Simply making the decision every day will not work in the long run. Why not? Because you will be tested. Eventually, circumstances will be just right for you to pick up a drink, and there will be nothing there to stop you. You will be completely defenseless unless you have actively pursued some sort of spiritual development in recovery.
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Practicing spiritual principles in recovery will allow you to keep making that decision every day to abstain. In particular, coming to rely on a higher power will give you the strength to continue making those positive decisions.
Living Our Choices Automatically – Attaining the Spiritual Experience
For me, the spiritual experience is characterized by a complete change in personality–a total shift from the self-centered person I used to be when I was drinking, to someone who genuinely cares about others in my recovery. This experience is driven by a connection with a higher power, who also guides the choices I make today.
After 7 years of continuous sobriety, most of these choices have become automatic as a function of my personality. The spiritual experience changed my personality–from the inside out. I no longer have to fight with myself over whether to I want to drink or not. I’ve been blessed with sobriety and I can choose to abstain without reservation–if for nothing else–so that I can continue to help others who might be struggling with alcoholism.